2015 has seen a special landmark in cultural history: the 2500th anniversary of the official ‘birth’ of comedy. It was in the spring of 486 BC that Athens first included plays called comedies (literally, ‘revel-songs’) in the programme of its Great Dionysia festival. Although semi-improvised comic performances had a long prehistory in the folk culture of Athens, it was only from 486 that comedy became, alongside tragedy (which had an older place in Athenian festivals), one of the two defining archetypes of theatre
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William Godwin did not philosophically address the question of debt obligations, although he often had many. Perhaps this helps to explain the omission. It’s very likely that Godwin would deny that there is such a thing as the obligation to repay debts, and his creditors wouldn’t have liked that.
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Yippeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have finished my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. This one was more challenging than the first two because it was the critical thesis semester. I really got into my topic - the illustrious objective correlative. So much so, I applied higher math to literature. Yes, this is what weeks of researching a topic will do to you, collide the left and right halves of your brain until you're combing math and words. Craziness...it's all part of the graduate school experience.
After I honed an cut, crafted and styled my thesis, I spent the rest of the semester sculpting the beginnings of a new piece. It was all about layering this time around. Coming up with the basic foundation, i.e. character and problem. Layering scene on top of that. Then external plot. Emotional plot. It was like creating a painting very painstakingly from the canvas up, hyperaware of each layer and the role it plays in the final perception of color and composition.
So, all in all, a successful semester. And only one left!
What this graduate experience has thus far taught me is that even if Socrates was a little glib when he said, "I know that I know nothing"...I know that I know nothing. There is so much to learn about any field--any craft--and writing is no exception. I will spend the rest of my life learning about it, glorying and despairing in the nuances of the written word and my ability to use it (hopefully glorying a little more than despairing!).
The critical work has imparted the same lesson it did during my PhD, structure, analysis, description and interpretation. It helps me to be able to organize the parts to story and know how they work together, what tools are available, which one I want to tinker with, and how other writers have done so in the past. I need that kind of direction in my writing.
Next semester it is all creative, all the time. I am curious to see, what I learn then?
I have a couple of places into which I hand-draw quotations on an irregular basis: a small moleskine specially set aside for text designs, or my large moleskine journal. They're not cleaned up at all and not necessarily "pretty", but I thought I'd start sharing them as I do like the quotes themselves.
This one is from the large journal, quite apt for the moment as I'm trying to regain the balance between work (far too much of it recently) and Life (enjoying the small pleasures of ...).
The following is an extract from Comedy: A Very Short Introduction, by Matthew Bevis. It explores the relationship between laughter and aggression.
‘Laughter is men’s way of biting,’ Baudelaire proclaimed. The sociologist Norbert Elias offered a rejoinder: ‘He who laughs cannot bite.’ So does laughter embody or diffuse aggression? One theory, offered by the neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, is that the laugh may be an aborted cry of concern, a way of announcing to a group that there has been a false alarm. The smile could operate in a similar way: when one of our ancestral primates saw another individual from a distance, he perhaps initially bared his canines as a threatening grimace before recognizing the individual as friend, not foe. So his grimace was abandoned halfway to produce a smile, which in turn may have evolved into a ritualized human greeting. Another researcher, Robert Provine, notes that chimp laughter is commonly triggered by physical contact (biting or tickling) or by the threat of such contact (chasing games) and argues that the ‘pant-pant’ of apes and the ‘ha-ha’ of humans evolved from the breathlessness of physical play. This, together with the show of teeth necessitated by the play face, has been ritualized into the rhythmic pant of the laugh. Behind the smile, then, may lie a socialized snarl; and behind the laugh, a play fight. But behind both of these facial expressions lie real snarls and real fights.
People often claim to be ‘only joking’, but many a true word is spoken in jest. Ridicule and derision are both rooted in laughter (from ridere, to laugh). The comic may loiter with shady intent on the borders of aggression; ‘a joke’, Aristotle suggested, ‘is a kind of abuse’. And comedy itself can be abused as well as used—racist and sexist jokes point to its potential cruelty. As Waters says of Price’s stand-up act in Trevor Griffiths’s The Comedians (1975): ‘Love, care, concern, call it what you like, you junked it over the side.’ Comedy is clearly at home in the company of insults, abuse, curses, and diatribes, but the mode can also lend an unusual inflection to these utterances. From Greek iambi to the licensed raillery of the Roman Saturnalia, from Pete and Dud on the implications of being called a fucking cunt to the game of The Dozens, in which numerous aspersions are cast upon Yo Mama’s character, something strange happens to aggression when it is stylized or performed. W. H. Auden pondered choreographed exchanges of insult—from Old English flyting to the modern-day exchanges of truck drivers— and observed that ‘the protagonists are not thinking about each other but about language and their pleasure in employing it inventively … Playful anger is intrinsically comic because, of all emotions, anger is the least compatible with play.’ From this perspective, comedy is the moment at which outrage becomes outrageous. Some kinds of ferocity can be delectable.
‘Playful anger’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, yet in Plato’s Philebus, Socrates notes ‘the curious mixture of pleasure and pain that lies in the malice of amusement’. Descartes suggests in The Passions of The Soul (1649) that ‘Derision or scorn is a sort of joy mingled with hatred.’ This chapter examines such curious mixtures and minglings of feeling by considering modes of comedy that seem to have a target in their sights—versions of satire, mock-heroic, parody, and caricature. We might turn first to the satirist; Walter Benjamin identified him as ‘the figure in whom the cannibal was received into civilization’. So the satirist is at once savage and civilized; he cuts us up after having been granted permission (perhaps even encouraged) to take that liberty. What is it, then, that we need this cannibal to do for us? The satirist, it would initially appear, is the comedian who allows audiences to join him on a mission. Satire is a scourge of vice, a spur to virtue; Horace imagines his ideal listener as ‘baring his teeth in a grin’. So far so good, but the listener may also get bitten from time to time: ‘What are you laughing at?’ the poet asks us, ‘Change the name and you are the subject of the story.’ Indeed, as Hamlet would later quip, ‘use every man after his desert, and who should scape whipping?’
Image credit: Business team laughing, © YanC, via iStock Photo.
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